Democracy Declaration team at No 10 11 July 2014
Members of Democracy Matters are contacting all main parties to discuss our “Declaration for Democracy”. We had constructive discussions with Stephen Twigg MP, Shadow Minister for Constitutional Affairs, and the Prime Minister’s advisers in July, and are contacting other parties. We would like the three main party leaders to make a joint declaration along these lines before the end of the year and to include measures from it in their manifestos.
The Declaration is being discussed with members and supporters as well as the political parties, so please say what you think below. This is draft 2. The next draft will be in the form of a survey to give everyone a say.
Democracy Declaration team at No 10 11 July 2014
A list of those present is at the end of this blog.
The next election is less than a year away, but many people have lost faith in our political system. Just one in five Britons trust politicians to tell the truth. Voter turnout was below 65% in all general elections this century and below 40% among 18-24 year olds. Turnout in local and European elections is even lower. At least six million people are not even on the electoral register.
People do care about politics. They just don’t see the political system in Westminster or their Town Hall working for them. Millions of people are active in their local community. Millions take on civic responsibilities as school governors, in voluntary organisations and campaigns of all kinds. The high level of debate and participation in Scottish referendum shows that people will take part when it matters. But the reason many people have got involved is that they see an opportunity to bring politics closer to home, away from the perceived failures of the Westminster Parliament.
Democracy matters at a local, regional, national, European and increasingly at a global level. The internet, globalisation and new technologies are rapidly changing the world we live in, creating both threats and opportunities. Our democratic system needs to give people the power to respond to these changes in ways that work for them. To do this we need to renew democracy at all levels.
Before elections all parties promise to redistribute power and give citizens a stronger voice. There has been some devolution of power in a few areas, but the pressure of events and public demands for action still leads all governments to centralise control and weaken their promises. In many areas of public life the lines of political accountability have been lost in a quagmire of contractors, commissioning groups and quangos.
Whichever parties form the next government, they should give people the means to take power and responsibility themselves, in ways that they choose, to influence decisions that concern them. One way of doing this is to enable people to learn how the system works and how to influence it. In sport, business and other competitive activities people can get training and support to improve their abilities, regardless of what side they are on. Why not for democracy? People need to understand how the system works and have the confidence to take part so that their voice can be heard as equal citizens. (For more on the case for learning democracy go here)
We are therefore asking the leaders of all political parties to make a “Declaration for Democracy” to promote politics as a public good. I suggest they should do so on International Democracy Day 15 September 2014, as they prepare for the conference season and campaign for the general election next year, but it may be more appropriate to do it during local democracy week in October or Parliament Week in November.
The following draft text is modest compared with Charter 88’s 10 points for a new constitutional settlement, but we want to find common ground between the parties about practical steps to encourage active participation in politics, so that people themselves can create the constitutional settlement they want.
We aim to
- ask MPs and candidates to support the Declaration
- promote discussion of the Declaration among our members and more widely
- take action on the 29 points ourselves and encourage others to do so
Democracy comes from the people and most political education comes about when people take action about something they care about. Too often people take action and get no where, so they conclude that they are powerless. But in politics, as in business, sport, science and many other activities, you can learn from others how to be more effective, and you have to keep on trying until you do make a difference. This Declaration is about enabling everyone to be an effective citizen in a free and open democracy. Please join us in making a difference.
Our Declaration for Democracy (Draft 2)
We call on the leaders of all political parties, candidates for office and civic leaders to make a “Declaration for Democracy” and promote political participation as a public good.
We are concerned about the decline in political participation and lack of democracy in many of our institutions. Many people are active in their communities and campaigns of all kinds who do not believe mainstream politics can make a positive difference. We are therefore determined to make democratic politics more accessible, inclusive and effective in giving people more freedom and power, whoever wins the general election.
We value democratic politics as a public good. We respect people who campaign for or against things they care about, even when we disagree with them, because political competition contributes to better government. We recognise that people have different views and interests. We want people to see politics as a process in which everyone can take part and even change their minds as a result of debate. We want to ensure that all citizens have an effective voice in society and can be heard. To this end we will make widening political participation a priority in the next parliament in three ways:
Make it easier for people to take part in politics:
We will do everything we can to create bridges between local communities and the political system by reducing barriers and opening doors into the formal political process, including:
- Make voter registration easier to ensure that all citizens can have an equal say in electing representatives at a local, national and European level;
- Actively promote voter registration and political participation among under-represented groups, including people with disabilities or special needs;
- Encourage and support individuals from under-represented groups to stand for office in local, national and other elections;
- Make it easier for people to join and make small donations to registered political parties and pressure groups;
- Promote Vote Matchto help people find the political party that best represents their views in an election;
- Create clear lines of political accountability for public policy and services at local, national and international levels;
- Support the Open Government Partnership to increase transparency, accountability and citizen engagement;
- Experiment with new forms of democratic participation and engagement at all levels of government;
- Create‘speakers corners’in public places for people to promote freedom of speech, public debate and active citizenship;
- Encourage and support people to be active in their neighbourhoods and organise independently of local or national government.
Close the participation gap:
We will do everything we can to enable people who do not take part in formal politics to do so, including:
- Encourage Members of Parliament, councillors and civic leaders to champion democracy in their area;
- Give local authorities a duty to promote democracy and powers to create local democracy hubs;
- Experiment with non-partisan community organising, voter information sessions and other forms of engagement in areas of low turnout and target participation initiatives at those who do not participate at present;
- Encourage voluntary associations, charities and faith communities to promote political participation consistent with their charitable objectives and Charity Commission guidelines;
- Encourage careers advisers, employment services and volunteer agencies to promote civic and political roles as worthwhile opportunities for people of all ages, and particularly among young people;
- Recognise the promotion of democracy as a charitable objective like the promotion of human rights;
- Create transparency in lobbying to encourage greater equality of influence and minimise undue sway by any section of society.
- Create deliberative spaces for citizens to explore complex, controversial and persistent problems such as our aging society, health and social care, climate change, the future of Europe etc.
- Give post-16 schools, colleges and universities a duty to promote voter registration.
- Create a “citizenship ceremony” for young people reaching the age of franchise for local authorities, schools, colleges or civil society organisations to run.
Promote learning for democracy:
We want people to learn how our democratic system works and how to take part in politics as free and equal citizens. We will therefore:
- Encourage all schools, colleges, universities, adult education providers such as the WEA, Women’s Institute and other civil society organisations to provide non-partisan education in practical politics, including debates on topical issues and hustings during elections;
- Secure effective citizenship education for all pupils across all key stages in every school;
- Enable all teachers of citizenship education to be trained in the subject and in handling controversial issues in the classroom and beyond;
- Promote whole school approaches to democratic participation and learning as ‘citizenship schools’;
- Allow youth representatives from registered political parties to speak in schools;
- Expand the National Citizen Service;
- Provide training and support for civic roles such as school governors, Health Watch members, parish or local councillors, youth councils, and other governing bodies in public life;
- Extend the excellent work of the Parliamentary Outreach and Education teams in promoting understanding of and participation in parliament;
- Make the Houses of Parliament and other civic buildings available for political education and debate when not used by elected politicians.
- Support the creation of a non-partisan Commission on Learning for Democracy to advise on the provision of information, education and support for participation in politics at all levels.
We want people to be able to take part in politics and shape the future. Our manifestos will therefore include explicit commitments to working with all political parties and civil society to put these points into practice and make this Declaration for Democracy an underlying principle of government.
END of draft declaration
What would you include in a Declaration for Democracy by party political leaders?
Titus Alexander, Convenor, Democracy Matters
The list of participants at No. 10 Downing St on 11 July 2014 was:
- Alexandra Runswick, Director, Unlock Democracy
- Dr Amy Pollard, Deputy Director, Involve
- Dr Anita Howarth, Brunel University,
- Freddie Gick, Chair, Civic Voice
- George Efstathiou, Communications manager, Democracy Matters
- Judith Robinson, Education Centres Association
- Dr Katharine Dommett, Deputy Director of the Crick Centre for the Public Understanding of Politics, http://www.crickcentre.org/
- Alastair Thomson,Principal Advocacy Officer, National Institute of Adult Continuing Education (NIACE)
- Liz Moorse, Senior Manager, Association of Citizenship Teachers (ACT), Chair of DFE expert group for citizenship, Chair of Democratic Life (also spoke for Paul Bower, Citizenship Foundation
- Prof Marge Mayo, Take Part
- Matt Scott, Community Sector Coalition
- Matteo Bergamini, Executive Director and Founder, Shout Out UK (www.ShoutOutUK.org)
- Paul Baggaley, Democracy Trust and Consensus UK
- Ruth Spellman, Chief Executive, Workers’ Educational Association
- Roger Black, St Lukes Church South Battersea, and Council of Citizens UK
- Thomas Giddens, British Deaf Association
- Sharan Thind, Signer for Thomas Giddens
- Dr Tony Breslin, Breslin Policy Associates, former Chief Executive, Citizenship Foundation
- Chloe Carter, British Red Cross
- Titus Alexander, Convener